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The Right to Development

by Brigitte Hamm Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2002 at 7:01 AM
mbatko@lycos.com mbatko@lycos.com

"The 1994 UN Development Program proposed a world social charter with the goal of building a society where the right to food is as sacred as the right to vote..and the right to development is a fundamentaql human right Brigitte Hamm is a professor in Duisberg.

The Right to Development

By Brigitte Hamm

[This article originally published in: Wissenschaft und Frieden (W & F), 1994 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Brigitte Hamm is a professor of political science at the University of Duisberg.]

In the final document of the 1993 Vienna World Human Rights conference, the western industrial states for the first time supported the right to development as an individual indispensable human right. Many regarded this agreement as horse-trading since some states of the South made it the prerequisite for the universality of human rights. Like the 1992 conference of the United Nations for the Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, the right to development was connected to the principle of sustainability. “The right to development should be realized so that the needs of present and future generations in the areas of development and the environment are considered.” (Paragraph 11 of the final Vienna document).

The right to development is the most important and most controversial right of the so-called third generation of human rights. Political rights and civil freedoms belong to the first generation of human rights. Cultural, economic and social rights are human rights of the second generation. In international law, the human rights of the first and second generations are anchored in the international pact on civil and political rights (“civil pact”) and the international pact on economic, social and cultural rights (“social pact”) which were both passed by the UN General Assembly in 1966 and became effective in 1976.

Economic development was uppermost when developing countries in the seventies introduced the concept of a right to development in the debates around human rights. This economic development was oriented in western industrial countries.

The demand for a right to development can only be understood on the background of the struggle of developing countries for a new worldwide economic order in the seventies. In view of a dramatically deteriorating economic and social situation in most developing countries and two unsuccessful development decades of the United Nations, more just trade relations and transfer of resources to the countries of the South should lead to a catch-up or equalizing development.

After a consultation over several years, the UN General Assembly finally passed a “Declaration on the Right to Development” with 146 in favor and 1 against (US) with eight abstentions (including Germany). This declaration is not binding in international law but is a normative declaration of intent or soft international law. As the core of this human right, the solidarity principle emphasized the obligation of industrial states for solidarity toward developing countries. Substantively the right to development was not a new human right. The right to development was understood as a synthesis of cultural, economic, political and social human rights, as a “right to rights”.


Article 1 of this declaration defines the right to development as an inalienable human right. “All people and nations have a right to share in an economic, social, cultural and political development where all human rights and basic freedom can be fully realized.” Development is described as a comprehensive process “whose goal is the increased prosperity of the whole population and all individual persons on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in the development process and in just distribution of advantages” (Preamble). This development term was vague and oriented in economic growth. The idea of sustainability did not occur in this declaration.

The declaration was largely ineffective for many years although a study group of the United Nations pursued the implementation of the right to development. Therefore the UN General Secretary convened an expert meeting under the rubric “Global Consultation on the Right to Development as a Human Right” at the initiative of the Human Rights commission from January 8-12, 1990 in Geneva. Representatives of states, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and scholars participated alongside different UN organizations active in the areas of human rights and development.

The experts declared that development strategies oriented in economic growth have failed. The experts viewed development as essentially subjective. Different ways of development are possible. Development should be determined by the people themselves and adjusted to their specific desires and needs. Participation of people, groups and nations is at the center of development. The conclusions of this round of experts are largely unconsidered in the human rights debate. These findings could enrich the discussion about the right to development and the connection of human rights and development.

The 52nd session of the 1996 Human Rights commission in Geneva discussed the right to development and different proposals for its concretization. A resolution on the “right to development” was passed in consensus on the initiative of the group of block-free states and with the support of several industrial countries including Germany. The resolution was oriented in the final document of the world Human Rights conference in Vienna.

Joint efforts of industrial- and developing countries could move people into the center of development. Human development considering the principle of sustainability could be accentuated rather than economic growth.

Despite the proclamations of Rio and Vienna, the term sustainability is still a hollow word in governmental and international development policy. The term sustainability is pushed to the background in favor of economic growth and competitiveness given a difficult economic situation in many industrial countries. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) also seems to take this course. In its 1994 “Report on Human Development”, the UNDP proposed a world social charter with the goal of “building a society where the right to food is as sacred as the right to vote, where the right to elementary education is anchored as strongly as the right to a free press and the right to development is a fundamental human right.

Nevertheless the necessity of growth for human development is emphasized in the “1996 Human Development Report”. The main thesis of the report is that “more economic growth will be needed as the world enters the 21st century” (HDR 1996). Sustainability is mentioned but mostly in connected with environmental protection. China is regarded as proof that economic growth and human development can be successfully harmonized (HDR 1996). There is no mention that the brutal Manchester capitalism of the Chinese regime coheres with grave and systematic human rights violations, work camps and rural exodus, environmental destruction and impoverishment of great parts of the population with simultaneous enrichment of a few. China is not a society that meets the principles of the world Social Charter proposed by the UNDP in 1994.

The discussion of sustainable development seems presently limited to integrating environmental protection in economic policy. However sustainability as a comprehensive concept also includes a reorientation of economic growth, democratization of international relations, stronger participation of people and changed consumer conduct of people in the North. The extent that measures support the right to development and efforts around sustainable development remains open. Emphasizing the participation of people and groups in realizing the right to development as proposed by the experts of the “Global consultation” and in the resolution of the 52nd Human Rights commission could be an important aspect of sustainable development

Excerpt from the Report of the Global Consultation on the Right to Development

“The Realization of the Right to Development” (HR/PUB/91/2)

Declarations of the Block-Free resolution on the Right to Development at the 52nd session of the Human Rights commission:

· The person is the central subject of development.

· Participation of people is essential in development projects on all levels.

· Regional commission and special organizations should be scrutinized on including the right to development in their work.

· The High Commissioner for Human Rights is supported as a coordinator for human rights activities of the United Nations.

· A group of experts is working out a strategy for implementing this right.



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